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Author Archive: "John Darnielle"

W.A.S.P., The Headless Children

Back when I was a 13-year-old hermit in training, eating lunch either by myself or with a fellow bookworm who was as content as I to silently munch a sandwich while we read, I was a big science fiction fan. To be more precise, I was a big science fiction and fantasy fan. Terms seemed very important at the time. There were a lot of things I liked about the genre, and plenty of them had less to do with the stories than with the feeling of community that seemed to exist around them: the way the writers talked about each other when they wrote prefaces for one another's books, and the willfully offhanded tone that fans tried to adopt when talking about the objects of their attention. ("Reading last month's Analog, I'm sure I wasn't the only reader who noticed Ben Bova winking in Theodore Sturgeon's general direction throughout his essay on robotics — what's the story?") But I think the thing that appealed to me most was the drama; the grandeur; the pretentiousness, which isn't the bad thing we generally make it ...

Born Again

My narrator in the Master of Reality book talks at length about Black Sabbath's Born Again at one point, and when he does so, you're partly young John D. in his idle hours asking himself stupid/important questions like, " Are you really a fan of a band if you like the singer who replaced their 'real' singer better? " I used to spend hours thinking about this sort of thing: are there people who prefer Doug Yule to Lou Reed? Tim "Ripper" Owens to Rob Halford? Annette Olzon to Tarja Turinen? (Sorry, I'm kinda geekin' out at this point.)

Born Again is from the non-Ozzy years, when Sabbath had a revolving-door policy with vocalists. First there was Dio, who helmed the band through Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules, and quit or was fired after he did or didn't sneak into the studio at night to raise the level of his vocals in the mix for the live Live Evil. Sabbath auditioned several vocalists and finally settled on Deep Purple's Ian Gillan, and this is where the story gets most interesting ...

Sad Wings of Destiny

Judas Priest in the '80s made two albums that cemented their reputation among young headbangers: Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith. Prior to to these two, I knew of them only through seeing shrunk-down images of the album sleeves on the inner linings of other records I had — I knew they had an album called Rocka Rolla, which was exactly the kind of album title that turned me off when I was young and grave-minded. Neither KMET nor KLOS, the twin engines of southern California rock radio, played Priest much — if they did, it went right past me, because I don't remember hearing them in grade school at all, and I listened to the radio every night. All that changed with "You Got Another Thing Comin'," one of the all-time great hard rock singles and a staple of early eighties rock radio.

But Sad Wings of Destiny came out in 1976, and it was well ahead of its time. It seems clear that both the band and the producer had been listening to Roy Thomas Baker's work on the early Queen albums (look at all ...

Appetite for Destruction

Well, let's be plain about it: it's overrated. It's not a masterpiece. It's a heavily flawed and highly derivative piece of work. If you'd been a fan of the New York Dolls, or of the Heartbreakers, or even of Hanoi Rocks, you'd already seen the basic blueprints for Guns 'n' Roses.

But. But. But. As much as I think this album boils down to a handful of really solid rock songs and a fair amount of filler, I also think it's a signal moment, and that it makes one of the best arguments for an album being more than the sum of its parts. Because Appetite isn't just the songs on it: it's the historical moment in which it emerged, and the years that followed it. It's the only-comes-along-every-so-often stage presence of Axl Rose, so electric that even the videos from the album conveyed it successfully. Everybody wants to be a star, but not everybody can stand in front of a camera and say with his body: "I am one." You couldn't miss it coming off Axl — that aura of arrogance, the irresistible reek of entitlement.

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Don’t Break the Oath

Infernal hails to Portland and all those who breathe its wet air! Maybe some of you reading this haven't actually been to Powell's. Me, I used to live in Portland. I spent more eight-hour days than I can remember haunting the halls, reading books I couldn't afford cover-to-cover, hunting down old Artaud volumes just to marvel at the cover design.

I was eighteen the year I lived in Portland. It was a fertile time for heavy metal, though a lot of what was going on was strictly under the radar: the music press wasn't reporting much on it except for the obligatory satanic-scare stories, and the cool kids — the ones people like to call "hipsters" now in order to let you know that they know who the hipsters are — could not be bothered with it. Celtic Frost played Satyricon that year, but I wasn't twenty-one, so I couldn't get in. Some of the tweakers I hung out with were really into Mercyful Fate, which brings me to the subject of this week's blogging: Five Albums I Might Have Picked Instead of Master of Reality.

When I ...

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